Jimmy Cliff: Soulful Prophet of Reggae

On the evening of July 23, 2010, my wife and I were delighted to be in the audience for an impressive performance by Jimmy Cliff, who was appearing at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. The singer and songwriter, who was born in St. James, Jamaica, and gained worldwide fame when he starred in The Harder They Come (1972), a groundbreaking film that depicted the ups and downs of an aspiring musician in Kingston, proved that he is rightly regarded as one the prime figures in the history of Jamaican music.

Jimmy Cliff came out wearing a red outfit, and was backed by a lively band that included guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, saxophone, and trumpet. He quickly took command of the stage, showing himself to be a vigorous performer at the age of 62, with a rich voice and nimble moves that would put a younger man to shame. He sang and danced with practiced ease throughout the evening, offering a polished set that featured "Sitting in Limbo," "The Harder They Come," "River of Babylon," and "You Can Get It If You Really Try," among other well-known songs.

In one of the highlights of his performance, his eloquent song of protest from the 1960s, "Vietnam," was updated to become "Afghanistan." Jimmy Cliff apparently understands that, in spite of Barack Obama (a so-called liberal) being in the White House in 2010, America has not changed its immoral habit of waging useless wars in distant countries. Unfortunately, it is likely that most of those in the audience did not fully grasp the current implications of the song.

Jimmy Cliff performed with rare distinction at the Oregon Zoo, using his boundless talent to convey an abundance of good feelings to the happy crowd. As a musician whose heartfelt songs express a broad range of human values, and as a singular entertainer who continues to embody the warm essence of Jamaica, he clearly has earned his standing as a soulful prophet of reggae.